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Law School to open clinic in the fall to fight human trafficking

BY VERONICA MENALDI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 5, 2009

A new University Law School clinic will be one of the first in the country to take aim at human trafficking — or, as one official calls it, “modern day slavery.”

The clinic will focus on a growing industry that now involves the illegal trafficking of 60,000 to 80,000 people per year across international borders — the majority of whom are women and children sold into sex industries, according to the U.S. Immigration Lawyers website.

Law School students will operate the clinic and provide legal representation to human trafficking victims in the United States.

The students will also work on international law reform projects to help strengthen anti-human trafficking laws in other countries.

Bridgette Carr, a visiting clinical assistant professor at the Law School, who worked on a similar project at the University of Notre Dame last year, will lead the clinic.

Carr said that while human trafficking most commonly takes place in the sex trade industry, this “modern day slavery” also exists in many other forms, for example, in businesses-like hair salons.

“It is estimated that worldwide slavery is more prevalent now than at any other time in history,” she said.

Aaron Wenzloff, a second-year Law student, said he plans to participate in the human trafficking clinic this fall. Wenzloff was involved in an Urban Communities Clinic led by Carr last fall and said he thought this opportunity would be a “great fit” for him.

Stemming the mounting trend in human trafficking involves more than simply stopping the traffickers, Wenzloff said.

“Part of the role of a lawyer is to tackle problems holistically, and that means helping find supportive housing programs, education programs, and other social services for the victims,” he said.

Carr, who has previously represented human trafficking victims in the Detroit area, said students will be primarily responsible for running the clinic and will receive course credit for their involvement.

“The clinic will represent victims of human trafficking in the U.S. and also work on prevention projects both in the U.S. and other countries,” Carr said.

The clinic atmosphere, Wenzloff said, will allow students the opportunity to be directly involved in the practice of law. Since he has taken a clinical class just once, Wenzloff said he has missed being that involved.

“I think my legal education was much richer when I could actively engage in hands-on learning,” he said. “It’s important to me to use my legal skills to serve the public interest. That’s really what I came to law school to do.”

Wenzloff added that it can be difficult to “give back to the community” considering all the time spent in a classroom. He said clinical classes have a unique advantage because they are “a great combination of active learning and contributing to a greater cause.”

Carr said the clinic’s goals are to raise awareness of human trafficking in today’s society as well as to prevent continuation of the problem.

As the clinic is set to open in the fall, Carr said she has great expectations for what it can accomplish.

“I hope the clinic raises awareness within the U of M community, the state of Michigan and the nation about human trafficking and identifies ways for communities to prevent it," she said. “I also hope to provide a unique experience for Michigan Law students to engage in human rights lawyering during law school.”